“I make music because the state of the world can feel so dismal,” says Louisa Solomon, singer, songwriter and bass player for the Brooklyn-based, feminist rock band The Shondes. For the past decade her band has been fusing politics into emotional, soaring rock songs. With their recently released fifth album Brighton (Exotic Fever Records), they have created their most successful melding of heart, soul, politics and rock riffs that also lays Solomon’s inner life out for listeners. “The act of creating is a coping mechanism, a survival tool, and I think some of what is most inspiring in political art is not the lyrics, or explicit content, or even the ‘topic,’ but the exposure of process,” she further explains. “We try to in some way be very up front in our music about how it affects us to create it, and how we hope it similarly affects listeners toward survival, toward hard work, toward hope, toward sustainable change.”
Brighton is a sweeping, stomping, beautiful record that includes the anthemic songs that the band has become known for in their decade-plus existence. The lineup has been through many iterations, but Solomon and violin player Eli Oberman have remained consistent. Solomon calls the current line up “the most fully realized.” “We have never had such a high level of skill and musicianship, paired with the production Tony Maimone brings to the table at Studio G. In terms of content, Brighton is very much an album about living with uncertainty, finding safety and joy within that, and recommitting to our ideals from a new vantage point.”
The record is full of blazing solos, often featuring an electric interplay between guitar and violin, such as on the album’s soaring opener “Everything Good” and the searing “Carrion Crow”; catchy, almost girl-group inflected beats such as on “True North”; and singalong, hooky choruses with fantastic harmonies on songs like “The Unstill Ones” and “The Clearing.”
The record represents a personal and artistic evolution for Solomon. She remarks wryly, “As a lot of the press on this record has noted, I got married this year to Eli’s older brother and my experiences around the relationship, and even the choice to ritualize it through a Jewish wedding, run through the album.” Solomon also recently toured the album while pregnant, and songs like “The Nightwatch” explore both the possibilities of an evolving partnership and the potential of bringing a new life into the world, as Solomon sings, “Baby be still for awhile / I’m on the nightwatch now / I promise it’ll keep while you learn how to sleep…”
The Shondes don’t write traditional love songs or traditional activist songs. Their strength as a band has been the interplay between radical, intersectional, anti-Zionist, feminist politics; emotional vulnerability and transparency; and progressive, Jewish traditions. Solomon explained, “I hope we sidestep the pitfalls associated with love songs; I hope that the feelings expressed here aren’t alienating for anyone, but get at desires most of us have: the desire to be seen, the desire to be respected, [to be] safe, alive with others.”
There’s no doubt, though, that the Shondes’ activist fire still burns bright, especially on songs like “True North,” where Solomon sings, “When we say ‘next year in Jerusalem’ / We say ‘every day is revolution’ / We raise the torch, we face true North.” Solomon’s lyrics like “I made this choice: fuck that noise (Don’t destroy yourself) / fuck that noise (Don’t let them destroy what you’re about)” on “Wrong Kind” hint at her early involvement in the feminist punk and riot grrrl movements, starting when she was 13.
I first met Solomon when we traded tapes, recorded on boomboxes in our respective bedrooms, of our teenaged bands. “I was inspired by Riot Grrrl bands to write songs and play shows way before I had the resources and skills I now have. At that time, at Riot Grrrl conventions and the like, people supported me in a way that I can only imagine had to do with a sense of feminist camaraderie, and connection to the emotional tenor of my musical output. But truly, the music itself is hard for me to listen to now!”
Over twenty years of writing, recording and touring with her bands later, Solomon reflects on how her music, her fanbase, and her approach have evolved. Thanks to coverage in outlets like Spin, Rolling Stone and Billboard, as well as supporting Against Me!, Solomon found that the Shondes have “tons of middle-aged white male rock-loving fans,” who talk with her about their emotional connection to the Shondes’ songs. “I would not have been able to imagine that when I first started out,” she explains, “It makes me think a lot about music as a possible bridge for empathetic imagination, full of radical potential.”
I asked her if she felt that part of her band’s embrace by a larger audience was also due to a shift in the way women, trans and queer people are perceived in culture at large. “I can say that even as there have been enormous shifts in representation, there is still an appalling amount of sexism in the industry, through and through,” Solomon conceded, but “I would not say I’ve seen a decline, but just a shift in presentation, norms, forms of it.”
Through their driving, melodic, and at-times haunting songs, the Shondes shine bright on Brighton and continue to find hope in the process of making art, speaking up, and acting out, as well as strength in the process of slowing down, reflecting, caring, loving and building a life and community together. This is the essence of the Shondes. Solomon captures this force perfectly: “Our music has always been about expressing and encouraging a feeling of real alive-ness, and hoping that it inspires people to do justice work, keep going, stay alive, and make more art.”
Eleanor Whitney is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician and Community Manager. She is the author of Grow, a practical field guide for starting a creative business and is working on a collection of personal, feminist essays, which will be published by Microcosm Publishing in 2018.